Astana (AsiaNews/Fergana) – A district court in Merken (Zhambyl, southern Kazakhstan) on Wednesday acquitted Fr Vladimir Vorontsov, an orthodox priest accused of praying in the mountains.
Vorontsov had been accused of violating the law governing religion, which bans religious activities outside designed places of worship. However, the law does not mention nature. Accordingly, Judge Ayman Akhmetova ruled that Vorontsov had not committed any crime, dropping the case against him.
The case had resonated in Kazakhstan and Russia, where the priest found unequivocal support.
The media coverage had surprised Vorontsov who said, “I did not call newspapers. I just told my friends about what happened to me.” In his view, “there is no persecution of Orthodox Christians in Kazakhstan. My case is unique.”
This was the first case involving an orthodox priest prosecuted under the Law on Religion. By contrast, under the same law, members of religious minorities (Protestants, Krishna followers, various Muslim groups) have been fined and arrested for praying private homes.
The law also allows the authorities to suspend the activities of religious associations.
It is rare for the courts to rule in favour of religious associations or individuals accused of violating the Law on Religion, usually after a complaint is filed with the UN Human Rights Committee, even though the charges are not that much different than those in the Vorontsov case.
For example, a Protestant clergyman from the New Life Church in Ust-Kamengorsk (Kazakhstan's East) has been accused of engaging in religious activities outside the church, at a recreation centre where he was with relatives and friends.